Study Guide

Dead Poets Society The Ghost of Uncle Walt

The Ghost of Uncle Walt

The most important poet in the Dead Poets Society-verse isn't someone brooding like Byron or regal-looking like Anne Sexton.

Nope. It's a dude that Todd described like this:

TODD: A sweaty-toothed madman.

Yeesh. Sweaty teeth?!

Good ol' Walt Whitman. This American Transcendentalist poet and bard, practically haunts the film...in fact, his photo is up on the wall at the front of the class.

His spirit is evoked again and again by Mr. Keating. When the students first meet Mr. Keating, he tells them to call him "Oh Captain, My Captain" after the elegy Whitman wrote for Lincoln. In the second class, he recites "Oh Me, Oh Life" as he encourages them to "contribute a verse" to the play that is life.

Later, when Todd is afraid to read his poem in front of class, Mr. Keating instructs him to look at the picture of Whitman and sound his "barbaric yawp." This inspires Todd to finally find his voice, and he comes up with a poem on the spot.

But why Whitman? The film quotes plenty of poets, but none as much as ol' Uncle Walt.

It all comes down to Whitman's free verse, which celebrated individuality and life experiences. Whitman is as much a source of inspiration as he is a symbol for freedom and expression—and that, for the DPS members, is pretty powerful.

Good choice, Captain Keating. Emily Dickinson probably wouldn't have inspired as much carpe-ing of the diem.

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